(Reuters) — Hyundai Motor and Kia Corp. will offer software upgrades to 8.3 million U.S. vehicles to help curb rising car thefts using a method popularized on TikTok and other social media channels, the Korean automakers said Tuesday.
TikTok videos showing how to steal cars made from 2015 to 2019 without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices have gone viral across the country. This had led to at least 14 reported crashes and eight deaths, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.
The free upgrade will be offered for 3.8 million Hyundai and 4.5 million Kia vehicles in the U.S., the automakers and NHTSA said.
The software “updates the anti-theft alarm logic to extend the duration of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute and requires the key to be in the ignition to turn the vehicle on,”; NHTSA said.
TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
USA Today reported last month that two major insurance companies had stopped offering new policies for high-theft Hyundai and Kia vehicles.
Many 2015-19 model year Hyundai and connected Kia vehicles do not have electronic immobilizers, preventing break-ins and ignition bypass. The feature is standard on almost all vehicles produced by other manufacturers during that period.
U.S. theft claims in 2022 were nearly twice as common for Hyundai and Kia vehicles as for all other manufacturers among 2015-2019 vehicles, data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows.
The group said that after the Korean car thefts, which began in 2021, received significant attention on social media in Wisconsin and then spread, total Hyundai and Kia theft claims per insured vehicle year increased to more than 30 times the 2019 level.
Hyundai will also provide customers with a window sticker that warns thieves that the vehicle is equipped with anti-theft systems.
The first Hyundai upgrade will cover more than 1 million 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata and 2020-2021 Venue model years. The software upgrade is scheduled to be available in June for vehicles that are still eligible.
Kia said it began notifying owners of the upgrade and expects to make it available to most owners in the next few months.
The automakers have provided more than 26,000 steering wheel locks since November 2022 to 77 law enforcement agencies in 12 states.
Kia said it also continues “to make steering wheel locks available at no charge through interested local law enforcement agencies,” subject to supply.
All Hyundai vehicles manufactured since November 2021 are equipped with an immobilizer as standard equipment.